Aviation History

Chuck Yeager, first man to break the sound barrier portrayed in “The Right Stuff” movie dies at 97

In 1997, at age 74, Yeager commemorated the 50th anniversary of his milestone flight in the X-1, by flying in an F-15 Eagle.

“The fasted man alive,” as the legendary US Air Force (USAF) officer and test pilot Chuck Yeager was known, has died at the age of 97.

Yeager was the first man to break the sound barrier when he tested the X-1 on Oct. 14, 1947, although the feat was not announced to the public until 1948.

“An incredible life well lived, America’s greatest pilot,” his second wife, Victoria tweeted.

Yeager’s legacy captured later generations as well, being featured in the book and 1983 movie, “The Right Stuff.”

“This is a sad day for America,” John Nicoletti, Yeager’s friend and ground crew chief, told CNN. “After he broke the sound barrier, we all now have permission to break barriers.”

According to Nicoletti, in recent years Yeager went through some physical challenges and had a fall that led to complications and other issues due to his age.

Nicoletti said that Yeager resided in Northern California but died in a Los Angeles hospital.

“Yeager was never a quitter,” Nicoletti recalled of his friend. “He was an incredibly courageous man.”

Born on Feb. 13, 1923, at Myra, West Virginia, Chuck Yeager enlisted in the US Army in September 1941, shortly after graduating from high school, and was assigned to the Army Air Corps. He was commissioned a reserve flight officer in 1943 and became a pilot in the fighter command of the Eighth Air Force stationed in England. He flew 64 missions over Europe during World War II, shot down 13 German aircraft, and was himself shot down over France (he escaped capture with the help of the French underground). After the war he became a flight instructor and then a test pilot, securing a regular commission as a captain in 1947.

Yeager was chosen to fly the secret Bell X-1 experimental aircraft, built to test the capabilities of the human pilot and a fixed-wing aircraft against the severe aerodynamic stresses of sonic flight. On October 14, 1947, over Rogers Dry Lake in southern California, he rode the X-1, attached to a B-29 mother ship, to an altitude of 25,000 feet (7,600 metres). The X-1 then rocketed separately to 40,000 feet (12,000 metres), and Yeager became the first man to break the sound barrier, which was approximately 662 miles (1,066 km) per hour at that altitude.

In 1954 Yeager left his post as assistant chief of test-flight operations at Edwards Air Force Base in California to join the staff of the Twelfth Air Force in West Germany. Following other routine assignments, he returned to Edwards in 1962 as commandant of the Aerospace Research Pilot School with the rank of colonel. In 1968 he took command of the 4th Tactical Fighter Wing. He retired from the air force with the rank of brigadier general in 1975. His autobiography, Yeager, was published in 1985.

In 1997, at age 74, Yeager commemorated the 50th anniversary of his milestone flight in the X-1, by flying in an F-15 Eagle.

Additional source: Britannica

Photo credit: U.S. Air Force

Dario Leone

Dario Leone is an aviation, defense and military writer. He is the Founder and Editor of “The Aviation Geek Club” one of the world’s most read military aviation blogs. His writing has appeared in The National Interest and other news media. He has reported from Europe and flown Super Puma and Cougar helicopters with the Swiss Air Force.

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